Earlier this year, I made from dry-bean-scratch baked beans for a group of out-of-towners, and well, I think it blew their minds. And I get it. Even my family’s “Aunt Von’s Baked Beans” come from the 1940s, a time when country cooks like Aunt Von would have made most bean meals from dry beans, but even her recipe starts with Campbell’s Baked Beans – already seasoned and sauced.
But c’mon, what’s it gonna cost you to experiment and really understand and control exactly how your baked beans taste instead of trusting what comes out of a can with ingredients made or refined in a lab? These are my day-of baked beans – the only difference is that I start with plain, unseasoned, unsalted canned beans because they are pre-soaked for me. Everything else is the same as my regular dry-bean recipe:
- 2 cans of great northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 green bell pepper, diced tiny
- 1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion, diced tiny (try to get Vidalia or Wadmalaw)
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can of tomato sauce (try to get no salt added)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar – for my family, I use 1/2 c, for out-of-towners I use 1/4 c
- 1/3 cup worchestershire sauce – I use a gluten free, corn free, soy free version
- 1T apple cider vinegar (more if you like it more tart than sweet)
- 1t salt
- 1t pepper
- 1t ginger (ground for sweet, fresh diced for spice)
- 1/2t all-spice
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (literally 10-15 flakes)
- 3-4 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Mix everything together in a bowl at least 2 hours before you need to start baking (at least 4 hours before serving). Taste to see how sweet, tangy, tart, spicy it is and add seasonings as desired. Keep in mind that at this stage, the tomato sauce is the main source of tangy and that will mellow into sweet during baking; be careful not to go overboard on sweet at this stage.
Ingredients that contribute to sweetness are tomato sauce, sugar, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and ground ginger.
Ingredients that contribute to tangy- or tartness are tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, worchestershire sauce.
Ingredients that contribute to spiciness are garlic, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes.
Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let marinate on the counter for at least 2 hours. It’s important to NOT put it in the refrigerator because that will slow down the marinating – not ideal for day-of beans.
Pour into 8×8 or 9×9 casserole dish and top with bacon pieces. Put in 350F oven for 90-120 minutes. Test at 90 minutes by lightly jiggling the dish. If it moves like liquid, makes a ripple, it’s not done yet. You’re looking for the liquid to reduce to a thick glaze and fully cooked bacon on top, not a thickened sauce and still-white fat on the bacon. And the bacon won’t really start to cook until the liquid stops touching it.
Another way to think of the ideal consistency of baked beans is that when you spoon then onto the plate 1) you don’t need to use a slotted spoon to drain them and 2) you don’t have to worry about the juice contaminating anything else on the plate.
Naturally, these are my ideals as a Southern cook in South Carolina who learned to cook from a Texas and Oklahoma ranch or cowboy style of cooking. Think about it: you can’t ride a horse around with a pot of juicy beans sloshing around.